Dylan cover a day: Dignity

By Tony Attwood

Now this is a problematic song and a half.  “Dignity” (the song) does something that I can’t for the moment, associate with any other popular song.   It’s core is the pragmatisation of the concept – turning the notion of “dignity” which is perceived but which cannot be touched, and is quite difficult to describe, into a reality.  No wonder Bob was unsure of what he had got and took so long to release it.

It was recorded in the spring of 1989 but not released until the end of 1994, ironically on one of the Greatest Hits albums.  How very Dylan.

It is a difficult song to grasp at first and I think a difficult song to cover.  Indeed listening to a range of covers in preparation for this little piece, I’ve been interested to listen to the eminent recording artists who have had a bash, and really failed to deliver anything worthy of the song.

But as ever I’ve found (and indeed already knew) a handful that are worth a listen if you have a spare 15 minutes or so.

The Low Anthem’s version really is worth trying – but please don’t just judge it by the opening lines – it grows in a way that I doubt that Bob could ever have imagined.  I find this beautiful, and it gives me a new set of insights into the meaning of the lyrics – which still puzzle me just as they did when the song was first released.

And because I like contrasts here is a real big contrast with Denny Freeman enjoying himself no end exploring the music only.  I am not sure this really works in full, because the chord sequence and melody are so distinctive that Mr Freeman finds it hard to get away from them… but as a bit of light listening it’s nice, and very much a piece to take away the blues.

Last one for the day – and taking exactly the same beat and time as Denny Freeman, but now forcing me to focus on the sound, since I don’t speak the language.   And  Francesco de gregori dignità (“Il Principe dei cantautori”) (“The Prince of the singer-songwriters”) knows how to keep the original and then vary from time to time, which is why at this time, this is my favourite cover of the song.

And my lack of Italian helps me once again appreciate what a masterpiece of sound this is in a way that I can’t do if it is all just an instrumental.  I need the words, even when I can’t understand them at all.



Untold Dylan was created in 2008 and is published daily – currently twice a day –  sometimes more, sometimes less.  Details of some of our series are given at the top of the page and in the Recent Posts list, which appears both on the right side of the page and at the very foot of the page (helpful if you are reading on a phone).  Some of our past articles which form part of a series are also included on the home page.

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  1. Dylan’s just telling us how he should have ended an earlier song:

    Wise man looking in a blade of grass
    Young man looking in the shadows that past
    Poor man looking through painted glass
    For dignity

    To wit:

    He saw an animal as smooth as glass
    Slithering his way through the grass
    He saw him disappear by a tree near a lake
    (Oh, I think I’ll call it “dignity”)

    Says as much below:

    So many roads, so much at stake
    Too many roads, I’m at the edge of the lake
    Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take
    To find dignity

  2. I was not expecting an oboe. It was, however, a very nice surprise when it joined in. But then, it’s an instrument that can do that. (I must watch ‘Amadeus’ again.) You are right, that is a beautiful cover.

    I’m really enjoying finding new artists to explore through this series. Thank you Tony.

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